“Do Revenge” has all the makings of an attention-generating machine, combining a “Mean Girls” vibe with the stars of two popular teen franchises in Camila Mendes (“Riverdale”) and Maya Hawke (“Stranger Things”) . It’s a shame the Netflix movie doesn’t match those qualities, delivering a slightly confusing mish-mash of homages that can’t pull off the finale.
The most obvious inspiration in this second film from director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (“Netflix’s “Someone Great”) would be Alfred Hitchcock’s oft-copied “Strangers on a Train,” as two high school students meet and realize that they have simmering grudges against different people and discuss the possibility of teaming up to get revenge on them.
Yet the plot (based on a screenplay by Robinson and Celeste Ballard) doesn’t pursue that enticing prospect with much conviction, which might explain why it wanes over time. The film is also indebted to many other teen films, such as “Cruel Intentions”, itself an adaptation of the French novel turned “Dangerous Liaisons”.
Above all, it’s a tale of unlikely friendship, set against the backdrop of another private school where parties make Roman bacchanalia seem restrained and pale in comparison. The cast is also brimming with talent from other franchises who are also getting a bit too big to play high school kids for much longer, including Austin Abrams (“Euphoria”), Alisha Boe (“13 Reasons Why”) and in a disarmingly small appearance, Sophie Turner (“Game of Thrones”).
Describing herself as “two wounded soldiers on the battlefield of adolescence”, Mendes’ Drea is the queen bee at the top of the social strata, despite being a scholarship student in this realm of wealth and privilege. She directs her anger at dreamy ex-boyfriend Max (Abrams), who leaked an explicit tape of her, while Hawke’s Eleanor harbored an old grudge against a girl who made a false accusation against her at the during its release.
“In this story, nothing seems,” Drea warns in voiceover early on, which should be a clue to the twists to come, as she and Eleanor take turns narrating, which works until until, towards the end, it didn’t work. .
Netflix has wrung considerable success from the teenage genre, with everything from romance to thrillers, including previous projects that offered new takes on familiar tales like “Cyrano de Bergerac.” But “Do Revenge” goes that route before taking a major detour – a strategy that’s not bad in theory but loses something in execution.
Admittedly, casting is probably half the battle, and Mendes and Hawke have a solid showcase, if it doesn’t deviate much from their show characters.
Again, “Do Revenge” isn’t about stretching convention, but rather simply finding another wrinkle on what has become an established formula. It does, but for a film where the characters often talk about their Ivy League aspirations, creatively it falls more into the security school category.
“Do Revenge” premieres September 16 on Netflix.